directed by Oliver Stone
(Warner Brothers, 2004)

So, according to Oliver Stone, who's never met a piece of history he didn't want to distort, Alexander the Great was a girly-man crybaby who let his own men insult and belittle him throughout his whole quest for greatness. The very fact that Stone sensationalized the homosexual malarkey of his Alexander cut the rug out from under this film's feet before it ever hit theatres. Alexander the Great is a name that has resounded throughout history for over two millennia -- but the history of that story somehow wasn't good enough for Stone. I think even Freud would shudder at the thought of someone who is not a psychologist or even an historian trying to psychoanalyze a man who died over 300 years before the birth of Christ. It's unfortunate because this could have been a powerful film.

Skipping back and forth across Alexander's life (Stone apparently thinks is a devilishly clever way to tell a story), we follow the great conqueror's story from his childhood to his death through the eyes of Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins). Born to Philip of Macedon and his exotic first wife Olympias (Angelina Jolie) -- who claimed Alexander was the son of Zeus -- Alexander (Colin Farrell) had a complicated childhood. Olympias groomed him to be the next king, worrying all the while that Philip would not recognize him as the legitimate heir. Interestingly, Olympias doesn't seem to age a day between Alexander's birth and his ascendancy to the throne at the age of 19 -- we're talking about Angelina Jolie here, so I couldn't get past the thought that this is an Oedipus complex just waiting to happen. Anyway, Alexander replaces his murdered father, sets off north to establish his control over the tribes there and then just keeps heading east conquering everything that gets in his way. After his daring defeat of Persia's King Darius, he fights his way all the way into India, farther than anyone before him had ever gone.

If he had known those Indian tribes had war elephants, I daresay Alexander might have just turned around at the border and headed back home early. Instead, his military exploits extend over seven years. We hear him talk about assimilating the conquered peoples, and he certainly likes to build Alexandrias all over the place, but this grand vision theme of Alexander's life doesn't get enough play in the movie to sufficiently explain his motives.

The movie does have some strengths. The battle scenes are very impressive (except the end of the final one, when Stone decides to get artistic with it), especially Alexander's ill-fated fight with the elephant-equipped Indian tribes. Blood and guts are spilled on an epic scale. Jolie is mesmerizing as Alexander's devious, snake-loving mother -- but I have no idea where that accent of hers was supposed to have come from. Speaking of strange accents, Farrell sometimes sounded to me like he should have been leading Braveheart's forces. He never became Alexander in my eyes -- there just wasn't enough substance to his character. If the film had been nothing but battle scenes, Farrell would have been more convincing; it's the scenes taking place between battles that lead this film astray. Most of this time is spent watching Alexander exchange meaningful glances with pretty boys wearing more makeup than Jezebel. The rest of the time consists of all those loyal men who supposedly adore their brave king whining about the length of the campaign, criticizing Alexander's motives and strategy, and making snide remarks about his heritage. There's no way Alexander the Great let his men talk to him the way they do throughout this film. There's really not much leadership on display here. Alexander's brave, certainly, but he's no Patton.

Basically, Stone does a great disservice to Alexander the Great, passing him off as a dandy with little strategic genius and even less control over men who supposedly loved and respected him enough to fight and die for him thousands of miles from home. Stone's characterization of Alexander is just plain weird -- and that's the whole problem with this movie. Let's hope that the youth of today and tomorrow don't see this film and actually believe they're seeing an accurate picture of Alexander the Great, because Stone's Alexander ain't all that great.

by Daniel Jolley
14 January 2006

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